November 28, 2009


Gordon, Linda, & Gary Y. Okihiro, eds., Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment (New York: Norton, 2009) ("These photographs exemplify Lange's mastery of composition and of visual condensation of human feelings and relationships. They also unequivocally denounce an unjustified, unnecessary, and racist policy. Lange's critique is especially impressive given the political mood of the time--early 1942. , just after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Hysterical fears of further Japanese attacks on the West Coast of the United States combined with a century of racism against east Asians to create a situation in which, as Carey McWilliams, later to become the editor of The Nation, remarked, you could count on your fingers the number of "whites" who spoke publicly against sending Japanese Americans to concentration camps. Even the liberal Dr. Seuss contributed a racist anti-Japanese cartoon." Id. at 6 (citations omitted).).

Robinson, Greg, A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement In North America (New York: Columbia U. Press, 2009) (Why should you read this book on Japanese American history? "First, the camps remain oddly obscure in popular American memory: most ordinary people [Are lawyers and law students among the ordinary people?] I have spoken to have never even heard of them. Among those who are informed about the wartime events, there remain serious conflict over how to interpret their legacy. Were the camps an isolated result of wartime hysteria? How do they fit into the larger history of American racism? What impact did they have on Japanese communities outside the camps? Into the void of public knowledge has stepped a small but tenacious circle of assorted right-wingers and war buffs who continue to deny or rationalize the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast and the institution of camps. Their campaign gained new strength in the post-9/11 crisis, amid the deep national anxiety over immigrants and potential threats to national security. Clearly, the entire subject of Japanese American confinement taps into some deep sources of anxiety, and this makes it call out for clear-minded historical study." Id. at 3. "Numerous Californians expressed genuine, if irrational, anxiety that Japanese raids on the U.S. mainland would be forthcoming. In this climate, an outcry arose among circles of West Coast whites for the expulsion from the West Coast of all Japanese Americans, irrespective of citizenship. The center of agitation was California, which dwarfed its neighbors in size and wealth, and housed the largest interest groups. There nativist and commercial associations, eager to dispose of the long-disposed Japanese American population, take over their fertile lands, and eliminate the economic competition they represented, stepped in to encourage and take advantage of popular insecurity. As one official of the Joint Immigration Committee put it, "This is our time to get things done that we have been trying to get done for a quarter of a century," On December 22, 1941, as noted, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce petitioned General DeWitt for the "evacuation" of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the city. Soon after, the California American Legion called for the imprisonment of all Japanese "dual citizens" in concentration camps, and the California Joint Immigration Committee and Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West passed resolutions favoring the removal of all Japanese Americans from the state. Another center of agitation was the members of the white agricultural groups, who resented the domination of the fresh-produce market by ethnic Japanese growers and middlemen. Groups such as the Western Growers Protective Association, the California farm Bureau, and the White American Nurserymen of Los Angeles lobbied for expulsion of Japanese farmers and promised that there would be no loss to farm production if Japanese Americans were expelled. A representative of an allied group, the Grower Shipper Vegetable Association, publicly admitted the roots of the position taken by the white groups: "We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown man"." Id. at 73. Read that passage again! Can you hear its echoes today among the ranting of TV and radio talk show hosts on the extreme right (not that the left does not have its share of ranting), including a hysterical "birther" at the town meeting who, noting that her father had fought in the Pacific during War World II, wants her country back? The numerous racial divides in America have long and deep-rooted histories, which lay just beneath the surface in event polite society. Still. our history is part of who we are as a nation and a people, expecially when we deny our history or give our history a false front. Denying our history, or giving it a sugar coating, will not protect our individual and collective liberties. "Governments and their leaders simply cannot be given arbitrary powers and trusted on faith to assure fundamental freedoms. Franklin Roosevelt, a great humanitarian and liberal, failed to notice the biased and self-interested nature of the call for removal, or considered it more prudent to remove the target of bias than to defend them from it. Hugo Black, a civil libertarian and defender of freedom, wrote the decision justifying mass removal on racial grounds. If such great men as these cannot be trusted, it seems to me that no lesser figures should. Rather. we owe it to ourselves to be jealous of our liberties." Id. at 304.).